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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

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Posts Tagged ‘fossil hunter’

Death of a Fossil Hunter

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 17, 2018

Junchang Lu and friend (Photos: Richard Conniff)

by Richard Conniff/Scientific American

When I travel to an unfamiliar country to report a story, I seldom know in advance about the personalities of the people I need to work with: Will they be helpful or in a hurry, plainspoken or obscure? But the moment I met the paleontologist Junchang Lü a few years ago in northeastern China, I knew I had lucked out.

So I was stunned, along with fossil lovers worldwide, to learn that Junchang Lü, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing, had died on October 8, age 53. The night before, he was pushing students to complete their manuscripts for publication and talking with fellow fossil-hunter Xu Xing about a joint project, according to an email from Hokkaido University Museum paleontologist Yoshi Kobayashi, Junchang’s “academic brother,” from their years together as doctoral students at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “His wife heard Junchang eating and closing windows around midnight. On the next morning, she found Junchang cold. It was a sudden death. Probably heart attack, they said. It is so like Junchang that he talked about manuscripts until the last minute he was gone.”

Junchang Lü made his reputation in part for his numerous discoveries of new pterosaurs. Since parting ways in 2001, he and Xiaolin Wang of Beijing’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) had repeatedly one-upped each other in one of the most productive paleontological rivalries of our time, describing a combined total of more than 50 new species, roughly a quarter of all pterosaurs now known.

Among Junchang’s most celebrated finds, he and his co-authors described Darwinopterus modularis—named for Darwin of course, but also for “a remarkable modular combination” of traits from two separate pterosaur groups, suggesting that tightly-linked characteristics could pass down by a process of “modular evolution.” One Darwinopterus specimen, dubbed “Mrs. T” (for Mrs. Pterosaur), came with Read the rest of this entry »

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